The death of over 60 children within the span of a few days at Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College has caused ripples of shock and anger across the country and abroad too. As state and central government ministers and officials scramble to find out what actually happened, ground reports seem to indicate that, as suspected, oxygen supply to the children's ward and the ICU had indeed run out.
But the moot question is: Was this tragedy just waiting to happen? Preliminary investigations suggest it was certainly deemed to occur. BRD Medical College is one of the few tertiary care public hospitals in this heavily populated region of Uttar Pradesh that caters to over 3.5 lakh outpatients and 40,000 inpatients every year.
While BRD's creaking infrastructure and mismanagement have played a role in the deaths, a larger question may again be bypassed - Why is BRD Hospital a "big centre" to which patients, not only from Gorakhpur but others districts around it, come in thousands? After all, many of their diseases (including Japanese Encephalitis) and treatment procedures do not require super-specialty level medication. So, why is it that a person has to go to BRD only to be treated for Japanese Encephalitis?
A look at Gorakhpur's health infrastructure reveals the chilling state of affairs. Just 11 primary health centres out of 68 in the district function 24x7 - which is what they are mandated to do. There are just six first referral units in the whole district which has a population of nearly 45 lakhs. There is just one sick new born care unit and only three new born stabilization units in the whole district.
Similarly, while Kanpur has four general surgeons for every sanctioned position, Gorakhpur has about one for two sanctioned posts. So, while the oxygen supply issue needs a quick and just resolution, a deeper look at what plagues Gorakhpur's healthcare system is urgently needed.